Asking for what you need 

I read Nonviolent Communication, finally, while J and I were on vacation. I’ve seen it touted among the poly community for forever as a staple in communication skill building. Reading the book gave me more insight and awareness into the structure that the model articulates, and I feel pretty invested in cultivating my ability to practice it.

Essentially, NVC asks you to:

Communicate what you observe without using judgment words

Communicate how you feel

Communicate what you need or value 

And, make a specific request without making a demand

Here is an example:

When I saw you come home last night drunk, I felt worried about you because I value your safety. Would you be willing to call me or a cab next time you go out drinking?

Or:

When I didn’t receive a phone call or text from you last night when you said you would, I felt lonely and disconnected because I value growing our connection. Would you be willing to share information about why I didn’t hear from you?

I think this communication can be anxiety provoking and highly vulnerable. Many of us are quite used to blaming and shaming others, and keeping ourselves in high esteem as if our actions and intentions can rarely be called into  question. It can also feel much easier to say “it’s your fault you feel shitty. I did everything right.” This method both asks us to own how our feelings derive from values and needs while also listening to how we do or do not understand, empathize with, and honor the values and needs of those we are relating to. It also emphasizes creating authentic communication and actually tuning into the people we’re talking to- it’s not about being “right” or trying to make someone feel bad or guilty for how we feel.

If you’re looking to take your communication and relationships to a deeer level, I can’t recommend this book and practice enough.

Domestic Violence & Open Relationships

I have had the thought for quite some time, as I think many in the open relationship community have, that the values inherent to the open relationship and polyamory communities can go a long way in preventing gender based violence and domestic violence (here is the most recent piece I’ve seen). Those values go a long way in promoting egalitarian relationships and empower all partners involved to speak up about what they want and need. Nonviolent communication is one of those practices that many people in the open/poly communities practice.

But, I have also long wondered where the intersection is between domestic violence and open relationships: do those egalitarian and nonviolent principles mean that there are not any poly/open folks experiencing domestic violence? I can’t imagine that that is the case, although I am sure it is a tiny pool of people.

And today, at work, my supervisor got a call that very much sounds like a triad torn apart by domestic violence. When my supervisor was describing the call, she said “Yeah, she said it’s her and her partner- another woman- and it’s the guy they were dating that’s being abusive,” giving me this “what the heck” kind of look. The guy THEY were dating? It’s possible “dating” was code for a relationship with a pimp, but otherwise, the situation still made sense to me. I responded with, “Yeah I’ve wondered about that intersection for a while- the one between DV and open/poly relationships.” Her response: “I guess you’ve found it!”

I guess so, unfortunately. Assuming that one community has communication and boundaries down pat and flawless mental/emotional health is a recipe for disaster: nothing is perfect, and no one is perfect. Assuming that wealthy people never experience DV or that poly people can’t possibly experience DV or that the queer community never experiences DV is all highly problematic: domestic violence cuts across all demographics.

I don’t feel excited to have heard about this caller- it is saddening and troubling, like all of the calls I receive or hear about. But I do feel satisfied knowing that at least there is someone at my agency who is poly aware and kink aware, who won’t be weirded out by a call like this one (me!). (I do know several other queer and sex work aware advocates, and several advocates who understand poly and kink, at other agencies. Yay!)

Abusers abuse, and I think it can be unfortunately easy to be manipulated and hurt in even a relationship that was once marked by honest communication. And while open relationships and poly relationships are marked by an intense level of honesty, openness, trust, and personal awareness, any relationship can be damaged by one person trying to gain power and control through violence and abuse.

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